BY ACHOR ABIMAJE
The battle for Little Rayfield, Plateau State’s seat of power, has begun. In this report, ACHOR ABIMAJE captures the intrigues and the unfolding drama as political parties and contenders engage in serious consultations and consolidation efforts to actualise their ambitions.
ess than two years to the 2019 general election, aspirants jostling for Plateau State gubernatorial electionare emerging. Some of the governorship aspirants have openly declared their intention to anybody that cares to listen. For others who are yet to publicly declare their ambition, their body language speaks volumes.
Following this development, analysts are of the opinion that the Plateau State Governor, Simon Bako Lalong will brace for intense battle as several aspirants, on different platforms, are poised to unseat him.
However, the two major political parties, ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have all agreed that Plateau South should produce a candidate for the gubernatorial race come 2019.
Although the PDP lost control of the state after the 2015 gubernatorial elections, they believe all hope is not lost as some party members who stayed back are rebuilding the party.
They have had successful congresses and pledged unalloyed loyalty to the Sen Ahmed Makarfi-led national leadership of the party, as part of plans towards peace building, resuscitation of internal democracy and party supremacy principles, ahead of 2019.
The state chapter of the party recently convened a reconciliation meeting where the father of the party, Senator Jonah Jang; former deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Prof Dakum Shown and other party stalwarts were in attendance to deliberate on the way forward.
At the meeting, the former chairman of the party, Prof Dakum Shown appealed to members not to repeat the mistakes of the past, saying if they were to make any meaningful impact in 2019, they should always allow the wishes of the people to prevail and not impose unpopular candidates on the people.
LEADERSHIP Sunday investigation however revealed that some aspirants eyeing Rayfield government house, includes former Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Hon. George Daika; the immediate past executive chairman of Shendam Local Government Council, Hon. Kemi Nshe; Senator representing Plateau South in the National Assembly, Senator Jeremiah Useni.
Further investigations revealed that other contenders include Sen. Victor Lar, Godfrey Miri, as well as Danjuma Siman, who is said to be a serving officer of the Nigeria Customs Service. According to sources at the PDP secretariat in the state, other contenders are Sunday Hassan, a staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); Ibrahim Ponyak and Nanzing Nden, both of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA); and Gregory Dakyep, who is the serving director of Finance and Supplies in the National Assembly, Abuja.
However, the scenario is a bit different in the APC, where the incumbency factor enjoyed by the governor might make the gubernatorial bid for the party’s ticket less competitive. Not even last year’s grand reception for defectors mostly from the PDP appears to have changed the situation.
Governor Lalong’s incumbency factor will likely play out as he is entitled to two terms as guaranteed by the constitution. He is in the race to complete his second tenure in office. Although he has tried to keep his second term ambition modest, it is learnt that he is consolidating his political structure.
He has won over the state civil service as salaries, pensions and gratuities have been paid up to date. He also has some projects like road construction and the resuscitation of ailing industries to his credit. He also enjoys a good relationship with the Presidency. His contributions during the Edo and Ondo states governorship election also put him forward as the president’s man.
Nevertheless, the determination and surge of the opposition is forcing Lalong to reshape and position other structures to enable him actualize his ambition.
For instance, pundits believe that he tactically delayed local government elections, citing legislative hiccups. Apart from that, it is said that he is in the process of assessing his appointees, evaluating their electoral value and their ability to deliver at the critical time, a move which will determine the changes he has to make to strengthen governance and negotiate the future.
However, governor Lalong has the Youth and Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung and former deputy governor, Dame Pauline Tallen to contend with.
Indeed, governor Lalong and the serving minister slugged it out in the 2014 maiden APC gubernatorial primaries in the state that eventually saw Lalong emerging victorious. Dalung was first runner-up.
The minister has not relented in his effort to clinch the ticket in 2019, it was learnt.
Lalong and the APC kingmakers in the state were alleged to have been uncomfortable with Dalung’s nomination and eventual appointment as minister in the Buhari cabinet, it was gathered. Perhaps this is because he enjoys the confidence and trust of President Buhari.
The governor and the minister clashed early last year at Shendam, when the former was said to have accused the latter of breaking protocol and proceedings during a Goemai cultural event.
Still, former deputy governor, Dame Pauline Tallen, is not a politician that can be easily dismissed with a wave of hand.
The former minister of state for science has been a close confidant to wife of the President, Aisha Buhari. Our correspondent gathered that she is also eyeing the governorship seat and would want to contest again just as she did under Labour Party in 2011.
Engineer Jimmy Cheto is also said to be oiling his old campaign machine for the gubernatorial race on the APC platform. He has been in it since 2007 when he retired from the service of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), to contest on the PDP platform. He was defeated by Jonah Jang. Cheto was at it again in 2011, this time on the platform of Labour Party. But he made little impact. He tried again in 2015, but was quite late in the proceedings, and could only lend nominal support to Lalong from the fringes.
This time around, sources within the APC say Cheto’s bid for 2019 might be a mere show, or at best a bargaining chip to earn him recognition and patronage of the APC if it wins and forms government again in 2019.
His structures in the state is said to have weakened in the face of depleted financial base having attempted the governorship position at every election for over a decade.
Former governor of the state, Sir Fidelis Tapgun, is said to be eyeing the state number one position. He contested for the PDP primaries along with late GNS Pwajok in 2014. The former minister of Industry in a forum organised by PDP last year was quoted to have said that the people of Plateau State should forgive them for asking them to vote governor Lalong.
Above all, any challenge Lalong is going to face in his party’s primaries will come most likely from the Taroh, another majority ethnic stock besides Lalong’s Goemai tribe in the Plateau South Senatorial Zone, whose eight-year or two-term rotational tenure will come full circle in 2023.
Whoever emerges from the APC gubernatorial primaries, it promises to be a decisive contest between the PDP and APC, going by the prevailing scenario in the state’s political space.